Carlo Billich
Prominent Istrians


 

arlo (Charles) Billich was born on September 6, 1934 in Abbazia, now Opatija. into a family that spoke Istro-Venetian, Italian, Croatian and German.

painter

born in Opatija
1934

In his own auto-biographical notes, Billich tells us that as a child he identified himself with the aesthetic symbols of the Italian regime; as an adolescent he was enchanted by Art Deco which in Italy fell under the well-known "Futurist" movement in the arts which for some was associated - rightly or wrongly - with the Fascist regime. Today, he is classified as a "surrealist" painter.

On February 10, 1947, the Paris Peace Treaty transformed Istria from an Italian to a Yugoslavian territory. Under Tito's new regime, Billich attended grammar school in the nearby city of Rijeka (formerly Fiume), and later attended the Institute of Economy, where he studied business, mathematics, algebra, geometry, etc. He had his first drawing lessons at the Classical Lyceum, together with humanities, then was accepted by the Corp de Ballet of Rijeka's Opera. Of this experiece, Billich said:

"....this offered me the most exhilarating, though short-lived, dancing career. I still take around the world my inventory of metaphysical choreographic ideas based on ballet. Absurd hyperbolae which include exaggerations on human limits but exclude gravity. Student and dancer, I was drawn also to writing and illustration, and found a niche in the minority publishing in Istria, consisting of a daily, various magazines and books on the Italian language. I was fascinated by journalism and soon, abusing my position, I found ways of expressing my dissent by publishing surreptitiously "erroneous" ideas contrary to the system."
In 1952, when the journalistic propaganda in his satirical articles was uncovered, he attempted to flee to Italy. However, the girl with whom Billich wanted to share this adventure, "as the good spy she turned out to be, betrayed me and I got ambushed and arrested". A Slovenian communist court dealt him a ten-year sentence in a Gulag political prison. He found that the time he spent in prison, "ignoring incidentals such as starvation, chill-bite and sadism", proved useful. He met there many intellectuals who were imprisoned for life. They had status and certain liberties in the prison, so Billich was able to obtain books from outside the prison walls. His prison mates taught him languages, art history, and practical skills.

During periods of punitive isolation, Billich meditated and made mental catalogues of  "cosmic messages" that still today are his inspirations for artistic subjects. However, he has never directly painted the images and conditions that he experienced during his incarceration. As he says, "even then I disliked social realism, which I perceived as an arm of official propaganda."

The Maribor prison where he served his sentence was a vast complex and it had its own theatre. This provided to him with the opportunity to learn stage set design. Soon after that, Carlo became the designer in charge of the theatre. Of this exposure, Billich says: "there are still histrionic traces to my work, lots of them!"
 
2001 - Billich is putting the final touches to his painting “Beijing Millennium Cityscape", the official image which he donated to the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee in its successful bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games.  [Above photo from: http://210.75.208.159/eolympic/news/tpxw/nws/1158.shtm]

After approximately two years in prison, he was unexpectedly released. Billich at once sought political asylum in Austria where he studied art at the Volkschocheschule (Art School) in Salzburg. During this period he worked as a psychiatric nurse, morgue attendant, taxi driver, decorator, restaurer, restaurateur, portrait painter and art director. He sold an occasional painting, and it was in this ambience that he realized his artistic calling. He made a conscious decision to follow a career as an artist, "throwing to the wind more cautious career options." 

Billich emigrated to Australia in 1956, then studied at the Melbourne Institute of Technology and the National Gallery School of Victoria, again surviving with every imaginable job until he could support himself as an artist.

[There is no personal or professional information available for the years 1957 to 1979.]

In 1980, he got an offer to work with Roger Vadim on the film Night games which was about an artist. He was the "stunt artist" for the film. The movie was being filmed in Manila, so when he got there Billich enrolled at the University of the Philippines Art School, and remained there for some time. According to Carlo, art studies there were a "euphemism", but he was lucky to be invited to join an elite group of painters who worked in group workshops out of decadent patrician homes. They were provided with the best models, lavish banquets and "mariendas", picturesque surroundings, and orchestras. "Surprisingly, out of all this decadence," Billich says, "I.was managing some pretty strong and exotic stuff."

In 1983, Carlo was invited by the City of Spoleto to exhibit his work during the Festival of  The Two Worlds, and this turned into an annual pilgrimage. In 1987, together with the composer Giancarlo Menotti, he was awarded the coveted Spoleto Prize. His "Cityscape" concept was born in Spoleto, a walled-in city that conceals much beauty. "I found in Spoleto the way of exposing city secrets. Ignoring walls and obstructions. Deliberately evidencing choices. Manipulating reality. An obsession that I transposed to larger cities, from Sydney to New York, from Rome to Düsseldorf."

In 1988, Billich became the Official Artist of the Australian Bicentennial, at which time he joined the First Fleet in following the route that was taken to bring English convicts to colonize the Australian continent. The experience resulted in few works but lots of thematic reserve for future marine paintings. In 1990, he was the artist in residence, guest at Lotrscak Castle of the Museum of Zagreb, Croatia. According to Billich, "Post-communist Croatia is rapidly becoming the cradle of middle-european culture and it's all there to discover and love."

He is a laureate of the Milan & Spoleto Award, Italy, in 1989. In 1996, Billich became the official artist of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix Melbourne.Since 1997, there is a permanent exhibition of his works at the Hakane Museum in Tokyo. In 1998, Charles Billich completed his series of Bleiburg paintings. [See them at: http://www.hr/darko/etf/et112.html#bleib.[

In 2000, he was designated the official artist of the Australian Olympic team for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. That same year, he was appointed Sports Artist of the year, a coveted title with a 20-year tradition, conferred by the United States Sports Academy. In 2004, he was elected the official painter of the Australian and the USA national teams at the Olympic Games in Greece. Also in 2004, he was elected the Official Artist of the 2008 Beijing Olympiad.

Billich was designated the official artist of the Australian Olympic team for the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 [Click images to enlarge]

In 2004 he had an exhibition at the United Nations in New York City of some  important Croatian contributors to science - portraits of Faust Vrančić, David Schwartz, Lupis Vukić [Giovanni Biagio Lupis / Luppis], Slavoljub Penkala, Josip Vučetić, Nikola Tesla, Marin Getaldić [Marino Ghetaldi], Rudjer Bosković [Ruggero Boscovich], Marco Polo, Andrija Mohorovičić, Spiridion Brusina, Lavoslav Ruzicka, also Croatian cravate, and a Bleiburg oil.

Presentation of the Official Commemorative portrait of the Blessed Mary MacKillop to His Holiness Pope John Paul II after the Morning Prayer at St Mary's Cathedral on the day of her Beatification, 19 January, 1995. Photo source: http://www.sosj.org.au/mary/photos/20.html
 

Charles Billich today lives in Sydney, Australia, but throughout his career he has also worked and exhibited his art in other parts of Australia and the world - in Italy, Croatia, Japan, and France - and thus considers himself an international artist. As such, he hopes "to mark an exceptional historic era, an era of ecumenicity and brotherhood at a thrilling moment in time. A moment charged with an exalted understanding between nationalities, races, cultures and religions." 

Billich editions and originals adorn boardrooms, galleries and collections across five continents and his work has been hung in the Vatican Collection. He has yearly exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Spoleto, Sydney and Melbourne and exhibits at some of the world’s best venues; he is the recipient of many prizes, including the coveted Spoleto Prize in Italy. He paints and draws in all mediums. He explores themes reflecting his own obsessions, fantasies and thwarted ambitions: ballet and sport, architecture and town planning, eroticism and classicism, portraiture and stage. He has been an honored guest and resident artist on many occasions and he continues to travel the world to fulfill his numerous commissions and projects.

See and hear Charles Billich in an interview taped for the Chinese television on June 22, 2004 (CCTV, English Channel, Up Close) - clip 1 and 2 (These are only viewable in Internet Explorer and require the latest Microsoft Media Player.)

Autobiographic notes

Collections, Exhibits, and Media Coverage

Selected works: Other image galleries:
  • Billich Gallery - 100 George Street, Sydney,  Australia - http://www.billich.info/billich_gallery.html
  • Fortezza Gallery - Lovran (Laurana), Istria - http://www.billich.info/fortezza_gallery.html
  • Bing Mah Yong Exhibit - http://www.asama.org/slideshows/billich/bingMahYong/index.asp
  • Images of Eyes Gallery II, Surreal Nude Paintings - http://www.imagesofeyes.com/nudes/billich.htm

Awards:

"Order of the Eagle' for the International Appointment as 'Sports Artist for the Year 2000
  • 2000 - Order of the Eagle Exemplar, USA
  • 1996 - Honorary Citizen of Atlanta, Centennial Olympic City, USA
  • 1989 - Milan & Spoleto Award, Italy
  • 1998 - Victorian Heritage & Cultural Award
  • 1987/88 - Prints Award/Gold Medal
  • 1988 - Spoleto Prize, Italy
  • 1987 - Spoleto Award, Italy

Publications:

In the year 2000, Charles Billich published an offbeat, if not also unorthodox, Calendar Millennium Almanac which contains:

  • 366 reproductions of paintings, drawings and sketches, past and recent from his studios in Australia, Monaco and Croatia (see the mostly black and white reproductions of a photostated copy in our linked galleries - above)
  • 366 thoughts, heresies, metaphores, unsolicited pieces of advice, confidences, confessions, platitudes and wise-sounding banalities
  • 366 days in the life of an artist that you can share hour by hour, day in day out, millennium in millenium out, if you, like him, want to disclaim any allegations of total sanity...

Sources:

  • Biography and various lists - Charles Billich, Calendar Millennium Almanac, courtesy of a presonal fiend of Mr. Billich residing in Melbourne, Australia (born in Strugnano, Istria) who wishes to remain anonymous
  • http://www.billich.info/references.html
  • http://www.artactif.com/indexB/billich.htm
  • http://www.glasslovenije.com.au/glas-slovenije-2000april-bilich.htm
  • Photo and award images - http://billichcomau.ozhosting.com/artist.html
  • http://www.hr/darko/etf/art.html

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Created: Sunday, January 30, 2005; Last Updated: Sunday, June 19, 2016
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